How US spies found bin Laden's hideout
US: It took months of painstaking intelligence analysis to find Osama
bin Laden in Pakistan but only three words "It's a go" uttered by
President Barack Obama to launch the strike that would kill him.
Obama told his national security advisor Tom Donilon and several
other top aides on Friday morning that he would sign off on the daring
plan in a moment of drama in the Diplomatic Room of the White House.
The violent and sudden operation in which bin Laden died in a short,
intense firefight Sunday in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, contrasted
with the months of painful piecing together of clues that finally
tracked him down.
Ever since bin Laden escaped in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountain
region in 2001 after Al-Qaeda's deadly September 11 strikes, his trail
had gone largely cold as he stayed hidden and avoided telephone calls
that US spies could trace.
But senior officials said that they had a breakthrough last
September, when they managed to link two couriers used by bin Laden to
contact the outside world to a compound in the garrison city northeast
By last December, intelligence officials were convinced that there
was a "high value target" living in the compound. But officials, from
Obama on down, never had 100 percent certainty that the Al-Qaeda chief
was inside the heavily fortified complex right up until the moment when
they learned that he had been killed in the operation.
A senior official said that the clues that something was untoward the
compound were amassed over months. "So we came across this compound, we
paid close attention to it because it became clear that whoever was
living here was trying to maintain a very discreet profile and was
practicing a great deal of operational security," the official said.
"We believe that Osama bin Laden and his family were living on the
second and third floors of the main buildings."
Another official said that suspicions had been raised by
extraordinary security measures taken at the compound and the fact those
who lived there burned their trash, and did not put it out for
Also, "they had a million dollar home with no discernible income."
It was not clear what role the Pakistani intelligence services were
playing in the operation - but given the closely held knowledge in
Washington of the looming attack, any role at all by this stage seems
By March, Obama was sufficiently confident about the intelligence on
the compound that he ordered the military to develop plans to attack it.
"We know there is a compound, we know some of the individuals there, we
know they are associated with bin Laden, they live under extremely
unique circumstances," the official said.
"If you build the case, it clearly leads to the fact that there is
somebody who is a high value terrorist there, and bin Laden is the only
person that fits the profile of who that high value terrorist would be."
By April, Obama was presented with three options: inserting a US team
to capture or kill the man believed to be bin Laden: some kind of other
surgical strike like a missile volley, or a recommendation for a longer
time span for more intelligence to be developed.
Amid intense security, unusual even for the White House, Obama
deliberated on what path to take with a small corps of the most senior